We touched on the possibility of Dustin Byfuglien moving back to his “natural” defensive position earlier this summer when GM Rick Dudley expressed a preference to do so, but now it’s nearly confirmed as Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay expressed an interest to do the same. That means that Byfuglien, Dudley and Ramsay all would prefer for the burly multi-skilled player to move back to the blueline.
Ramsay said Friday that Byfuglien will come to training camp as a defenseman.
“Dustin Byfuglien will have a chance to play defense,” Ramsay said. “I’ve been told he is a defenseman, he was a defenseman. That was his position and he likes it. He wants to be there. I will give him every opportunity to show us he can play defense. If he can do that, wonderful. That’s great. I look at our defense and I think it can be our strength, a strong point. If Buff can go in and be big and strong on defense, that would be awesome. If it doesn’t work, he’ll go up front. There is no reason we wouldn’t give him every good, solid chance to play the position and find out if he can. That would really solidify us on the back end.”
As a forward, Byfuglien scored 17 regular-season goals for Chicago last season. He scored 11 goals in 22 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup. Byfuglien was traded to Atlanta in the off-season – one of four players from the championship team to join the Thrashers.
Such a move would seemingly set the top six defensemen of Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Brent Sopel and Byfuglien. That would mean players such as Boris Valabik, Freddy Meyer, Arturs Kulda, Jaime Sifers and Andrey Zubarev are in competition for another spot when training camp begins next week. Ramsay said he doesn’t intend to carry players on the roster that aren’t going to play on a regular basis.
It’s great that the Thrashers want to keep Byfuglien happy, but I think he might be more valuable to Atlanta as a forward. Just look at the offensive firepower the team already boasts in the defensive position: Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey all can be useful on the powerplay. While I respect the fact that Byfuglien has a howitzer of a slap shot, I think he might be most useful in the Tomas Holmstrom role of making a goalie uncomfortable on the powerplay. It’s a tough job, but you know what’s a tougher job? Trying to move a 260 lbs. behemoth out of the crease.
The Thrashers are a vastly different team and while Byfuglien may never be a consistent impact player in the NHL, he’s part of a squad that will make things a lot more difficult for opponents. They might not win many more games – at least this season – but they’ll leave their rivals with more bruises. That must count for something, right?